Saturday, February 1, 2014

Just let him wear the purple boots

I have a degree in psychology. In my previous life before motherhood, I worked in a psychiatric facility.  I can tell you about basic psychology, industrial psychology, child psychology, cognition, and a whole slew of other one-semester courses that made me qualified to work in the field.  I can ask you how something makes you feel, and most normal, mentally-unstable people can give a reasonable answer.  I am an active listener with great de-escalation technique.  With all of these qualifications, nothing prepared me for life with toddlers. 

Waking up a psychiatric patient:  You quietly knock on the door and gently whisper, "Good morning Mr. Patient, breakfast is in 30 minutes followed by your morning goals group." 

"Thanks." is the usual response although on occasion one may expose themselves to you, ask if you will be serving eggs for breakfast or inquire if you are a "dragon witch."

Waking up a toddler:  You quietly tip-toe into his room knowing full well you have a fifty-fifty chance of making it out alive.  It's difficult because your heart is involved and you want to make those sweet mamma baby moments that you can forever treasure in a picture frame by Hallmark.   You sit down gently on the edge of the little bitty toddler bed and gently rub his back and whisper, "good morning sweet baby, it's time to wake up." He continues to sleep peacefully, quietly, like an angel.  So you whisper again.  "Hey snuggle bug, rise and shine." and he begins to stir and you know you are about to get the biggest ear-to-ear smile you have ever seen in your life as your heart melts to the ground in a puddle of sheer joy.

Then, you hear it.  "I don't want to get uuuuup! Uuuuuuhhhhh".   Wait, what?  "I am too sleepy!"  He sobs in an irrational fit.  Retreat!  Retreat!  Something has gone terribly wrong!  Abort mission! At this point you know that your entire day is over.  I mean it, you have poked the bear, you have pulled the pin out of the grenade, you, my friend have made one of the biggest mistakes of your life.  It's over until you go to bed tonight, if he lets you.

Feeding your psychiatric patient:" Here is your tray, please take your shoes off of your hands so you can eat."  They usually ignore you, take the shoes off of their hands and eat, or go and have a cigarette out on the porch that resembles a gigantic bird cage.
Feeding a toddler:  "What do you want for breakfast?" 

"Apple Oatmeal."

Well, that sounds simple enough.  You make the oatmeal while your temperamental and sleepy toddler clings to your leg and wipes face fluid on your new dress.  You shake the toddler off and he runs away in a whiny fit of noise but you don't care. This gives you that tiny window of time to finish making the oatmeal.  You discover that he has scribbled on the wall during those two minutes he was out of your sight.  You set the oatmeal on the table and let it cool while you teach the toddler how to use a magic eraser on what you will refer to as a mural for the next three years because you don't have time to paint again.  Then, you put the toddler in timeout after he has a total meltdown because the drawing on the wall won't come off.  Finally, you take the toddler out of timeout, explain why it's wrong to draw on walls, and set him down in front of perfectly cooked oatmeal because yes, you are that good.  He will reply "thank you mamma!"in your dreams. 

"I said I want marshmallows and staaaaaaars!  Aaaaaaaaah!" Sobbing commencing.

Suddenly you are certain you are raising a brat.  Really, doesn't that sound bratty to you?  If they were my kid I would beat them, you think to yourself. Wait a second, they are your kid and you have a healthy fear of child protective services due to what shall now be referred to as "The White Castle for Dinner Incident of 2012."  I believe I have mentioned this before? Yes?

"You said you wanted oatmeal."

"But I don't like oatmeal!"

"I'm not fixing anything else.  You will eat the oatmeal."  Yes, you are a bad ass, way to go mom.

The child hurls himself to the ground out of his chair in a tired fit while slinging baby gibberish obscenities at you and simultaneously smacking his head on the floor leaving a giant swelling goose egg. 

Yeah, way to go "bad ass".  Your kid has an injury now because you made him eat oatmeal.

Getting your patient involved in morning activities:  "Good morning Mr. Patient.  If you wouldn't mind getting dressed for the day and having a seat in the day room, we are going to set some goals and do some activities."

"I'm smoking.", "I'm going to take a nap.", "HURRICANE!", or "Ok, where shall I sit?"  are all common answers but most of the time, the patient will oblige.

Getting your toddler ready for morning activities: "Hey kiddo, what do you want to wear today?"  That was your first mistake.  Never ask them what they want to wear because they will quickly grab the nearest pair of purple cowboy boots and bucket. "Oh, ha ha, you are cute, seriously though, how about these sweet little corduroy overalls with this newspaper boy hat.  You will look adorable!"

"No, I'm wearing boots.".  Do you see where this is going?  Can you feel the tension in the air?  Just let him wear the boots.  LET HIM WEAR THE BOOTS! 

"You can't wear the boots, we are going to the grocery store in our small town and many people have gender specific ideologies that boys shouldn't wear purple boots and mamma just doesn't have the inclination to argue today."  What?  Give me a break, I spend my days with toddlers.  I need some adult conversation!  



You struggle to force dress the child in his cute overalls and hat.  You curse under your breath as he wiggles and yells while kicking the air and refusing to do anything you need for him to do.  You look at the clock and it's already 11.  Seriously?  The dog runs into the room and barfs near the struggling toddler who then puts his foot into the floor vomit puddle and begins to scream.  Then, in all of his vomit foot panic he touches his foot with his hand to see what has happened and then touches your face!  You have warm dog vomit on your face because you wouldn't let your child wear boots.  Why couldn't you just fight the gender bias and let the poor boy wear his freaking purple boots and bucket? 

You clean the little guy up, and he gives you a sweet smile as you rub lavender lotion into his little tootsies.   In a few hours you will die a little on the inside when you realize that you have answered the door with dried dog vomit on your face that you forgot about, but that's beside the point. Your child is clean and well fed.  You are an amazing mother. You set him down in front of a little makeshift desk that you have tirelessly created so that he can have a little space of his own and hand him a coloring book and some crayons.   Life is good.  He is quiet for a moment and you are rerunning a load of laundry that your forgot about yesterday and now smells like old dish rags.

Giving your psychiatric patient lunch : "Line up for meds."  That will about do it. 

Giving your toddler lunch: Please refer back to breakfast, only this time make peanut butter and jelly but then have him insist on honey.  Also, this is also the portion of the day where you hide in your closet with a bottle of Advil and some chocolate cake while he sweetly tries to lure you out by whispering "love you mamma" and "wanna snuggle?" talk through the crack at the bottom of the door.  Don't believe him.  It's a trick to get your chocolate cake.  They are like bloodhounds when it comes to top secret dessert or snacks.

Giving your psych patient a little down time: "Hey Mr. Patient, how are those new meds working out for you?"  At this point you will either wake him up, grab some extra help to peel him off of the walls and re-medicate, or unlock the bird cage so he can smoke again. 

Getting your toddler down for nap: "Hey baby, it's nap time." as you try to conceal your excitement. You quickly grab the child, run him up the stairs all while singing and making a fun game of it.  Then, you put him in bed and make a hasty exit before he knows what hit him. You listen for a moment and he begins to yell "I don't want to take a nap.  wahhhhhh!"  You don't care though, you are going to let him cry it out this time.  He is pretty tired and quiets down quickly.  YOU are going to get an entire bathroom clean,  YOU are going to take a shower.  You are going to conquer the world!  You walk past your bed and think, maybe I will just sit down for a moment.  Two hours later you wake up on your husband's pillow with a puddle of drool under your cheek and guess who is awake, well-rested, and tickling your feet?  That's right, the cutest sweetest child to ever walk the face of this earth. 

It is already 4 o'clock.  Your day is over and you have not gotten a thing done.

Shift change, giving report to the next shift for your psych patient:   "It was a fairly easy day.  Mr. Patient ate appropriate amounts of food and took all of his meds.  He continues to refer to me as 'waitress' and required some redirection during morning group when he tried to save another patient from aliens."  He is restricted to the unit for his own safety for the remainder of the day.  At this point, you grab your keys and head home. 

Shift change, your husband comes home:  He says "Hey honey, how was your day?  What's for dinner?"  You say, "Do you mind if I go and jump in the shower really quick and we can just grab something?"  He says "Well, what do we have that we can just fix?" 

Clearly, you have had a miscommunication.   Your husband doesn't fully understand the consequences of his actions.  He will be on "talking to his wife" restriction for the remainder of the day for his own safety.

I guess what it boils down to is that human behavior is unpredictable. Some days the guy who isn't stable just wants to know if he can have eggs and a cigarette, while we "normal" people are running around slathered in dog vomit because we were worried that someone may give us a hard time over a pair of purple boots. It doesn't always make sense to me. I just know that since having children, sometimes I crave the peace and normalcy that the psychiatric unit has to offer.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hello, my name is Robin and I am a mother

I remember when becoming a mother was all I ever wanted in life.  It begins when you realize that magic is happening right inside of you.  YOU are creating life.  YOU are beautiful and amazing. YOU can eat an obscene amount of food and nobody will say a word.  You, my friend, are embarking on becoming the lady from the jewelry store commercials.  Your skin is glowing, your belly is growing, and the next chapter of your fairy tale is about to begin.

Now, to let all of you future parent suckers in on a little secret.  It recently came to my attention that I have become a victim of believing what I see on TV about motherhood.  Oh sure, those sweet little faces and cuddly moments are worth any trade off, but I have noticed that I am slowly eking out the characteristics I used to detest in the vanity of my 20's.   

My oldest child is 8 and he has three younger siblings.  I don't always remember their names because they all look alike. They also tend to run in packs and join together in knowing absolutely nothing about anything when something gets broken.  They have voracious appetites and subsist mainly on crackers and fruit with an occasional cereal.  They have very refined palates and will critique anything you cook that is not hot dogs or macaroni and cheese.  They are nocturnal and speak some sort of giggly jibber jabber well into the night without responding to stern reprimanding or flickering lights.  Many times they work in shifts to keep my husband and I awake throughout the night.  I am only assuming this is for scientific research to find out how long the human body can go without sleep.  So far, eight years is my record. 

With all of the lack of sleep, I am always looking for the quick fix in an attempt to stay beautiful.  Sometimes I put my hair in rollers.   If you are using hot rollers you are a mom. 

Hot rollers are the beauty industry's joke on moms.  It's a way to identify them quickly from a crowd because the stretch marks, tired eyes, and general haggard appearance isn't always a giveaway.  Occasionally, one of the smarter moms realizes this.  (I call them smarter but in reality, they just got the kid that sleeps). She will quickly throw out the hot rollers because she has time for such things as wash and blow-dry.  Bitch.  On the bright side, she will one day think she can handle one of those short haircuts, even though hardly any woman looks really good with short soccer mom hair.  What?  I'm sorry, it's true.  Stop judging me for judging you.  Grow your hair.  I'm tired of fighting. I haven't slept in eight years.  Can't we just drink Starbucks?

As a mom, at some point since giving away your youth, the severity of the stain became important.  Every piece of clothing that a mom owns likely has a flaw of some sort.  It's ok, she can still cover them with a sweater or scarf most of the time.  If her cover sweater has a stain too, she can accessorize with some sort of loud flower.  Oh how I love to talk about accessories.  I remember those. 

As a mom, you will look down at your shirt, notice the jelly hand print on your gorgeous blue blouse, and just say "oh well", as you put your coat on.  It's not like you are going on a date.  You are just going to the grocery, pediatrician, or your mom's house anyway, and they don't care.  If you were going to a meeting of other moms to discuss who is the better mom, you would care.  Those are the days you remember that hot rollers are a bad idea and you need clean clothes.  If you are feeling particularly saucy, this is a good time to just pop in on the mom you don't like strictly because she did it to you.  It's always good to bust another woman in hot roller hair and stained clothing.  It's part of the food chain.  Bring her a Starbucks full fat caramel macchiato, smile, and act nonchalant as she explains that her house isn't always dirty.  This is your chance to make a friend or a frienemy. It's your choice.  If you choose frienemy, you get to keep them at a distance.  Just think about it. Go ahead, judge me, it's and your short hair.

Cooking and posting on social media is the new territory of this generation. Mom's like to post what they have cooked on social media.  It's kind of a Star-Belly Sneetch of motherhood.  "My kids are eating beluga caviar and triple aged sharp truffle cheese".  Nobody ever posts "I gave my children White Castle cheeseburgers and worry that someone will call child protective services". 

Moms, If you want to make a good impression, have your sister who takes way better pictures than you cook a few amazing meals, take pictures, and send them to you.  Then, when you are having a hot roller kind of week, post one of these pictures and watch all of the other moms ooh and aah over how incredibly talented you are.  Yes, it's kind of like food plagiarism, but frankly, you are covering your stains with stains, what have you got to lose?  Just remember to keep the mystery about yourself so that when you are invited to a party and asked to fix it, you can either reject the invitation or tell everyone that you are trying the raw vegan lifestyle.

Hiding.  Come on, admit it, you do it.  We all hide.  My husband hides in the bathroom.  Seriously, I haven't spent more than 5 minutes in the bathroom since 2005 out of fear that someone will fall down the stairs, out of a tree, or be sucked into the air ventilation system.  My husband on the other hand, spends an obscene amount of time in the bathroom.  I don't bother him about it but honestly, I don't know that he has any digestive issues and sometimes I think I hear him snoring.  I suspect he is sleeping while I run after kids like some sort of schmuck. 

Hiding is best done with food since this will be the only time you eat without sharing.  I prefer to sit on the the old exercise step system in the back of my closet but that's just me.  Everyone is different.  It can be the mini barn, attic, or laundry room because you are the only person that really goes in there. Do whatever you want.  This is your time.  Just make sure you have a barrier between you and the kids so that when they discover you are hiding they don't have direct access to you.  It's important during food sneaking and hiding or even important telephone call hiding, that you have something in the way that the kids can bang on and yell for you through.  This way you can be certain that they are ok during your hide time. Every mom knows that when things get quiet, it's time to worry.  Hey look at that!  You are a multitasker!

Reality television shows of today are the soap operas of yesterday.  It's dramatic, it's catty, it's everything a soap opera is only it's with real fake people, not fake real people.  I now understand why women like soap operas.  It's not about the show, the people or anything really.  It's an escape.  I vow to watch smutty women's TV because they drive better cars than me, wear fancier clothes, have more interesting lives, and most importantly, nobody else in my family can stand to watch it.  It's mine, all mine.  If I turn on the real housewives of Bulgaria, I am certain to have the television all to myself.  Sure, a kid or two may wander in and out of the room because I am having a snack and they are on snack patrol at all times, but they will certainly get bored quickly enough and leave again. 

I honestly don't care if Carlita and The Dame of Povania get into a fight with the well-known ferret lunch meat heiress.  It's just like watching high school all over again, and that makes me feel young.  Besides, I have a morbid curiosity about the lack of facial movement.  Look, she is crying, but nothing is happening.  Her mouth looks kind of sad and tears are rolling down her face but NOTHING ELSE IS MOVING!  It's interesting.  It's fascinating.  Did you know people with sweaty armpits put botox in them to keep the sweat down?  Really!  Perhaps I have gotten off the topic.  

So, I guess what I am saying is that smutty television is just a coping mechanism.  Imagine a padded exercise stair in the back of a closet with a reality TV channel.  Wouldn't that be amazing?  Point made.

Motherhood has reached far beyond my expectations.  Sometimes I am an amazing mom, and sometimes I forget how many children I have while I am in public.  It has been the most unpredictable adventure of my life. I like to think that the handprint jelly stain on my blue blouse will just be a reminder of how sweet and little they once were.  Perhaps I will just add it to the hoard of artwork and crafts that I save next to my exercise step in the back of my closet.  The days sure do go quickly and I don't want to miss anything. Secretly, I think the kids realize this and that's why they keep us awake.  They really are smart little boogers.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Don't throw rocks at the alligators' eyes

When I was 6, my family went through a rough patch. I am not exactly certain what happened.  Even now, when I ask my parents about it, it's all sort of vague.  I will just assume it was some sort of witness protection program.  As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure that my original name was Talking Wind, but they will neither confirm nor deny this.

During this rough patch, they pulled my sister and I from our quiet little private school in Indianapolis, loaded us into a truck, and headed down to Clearwater, Florida.  We stayed with my dad's buddy, Steve, for a few days while they found a home for us.  Steve had half of a dead fish in his freezer.  Its head was sticking out, and it's backside was missing but covered in foil.  It was like a magician's trick gone awry.  It looked at me whenever I reached in to get ice. My 9-year-old sister quickly informed me not to worry about it since fish don't have souls. 

Quickly enough, we moved on from the fish freezer house and found ourselves in a rental home on a little lake full of alligators. We were new to Florida, so my parents laid down some rules to keep us safe.  They also had a way of making us believe that if we didn't follow the rules, the likely consequence would be death. 

The rules of Florida for a 6 year old as I remember them.

1. Don't let let the dog out near the lake because the alligators will try to eat her.  Mom reinforced that they found poodles extra tasty and we had a poodle, so we really needed to be vigilant. 
2. If the alligators try to chase you, you should run in a zig-zag motion so as to confuse them.
3. Don't throw rocks at the alligators' eyes.
4. Check your shoes in the morning because the scorpions like to climb into them and they will sting you.  If they sting you, you will die.
5.  Check the bed sheets before you get in because the scorpions will hide in them.  If they sting you, you will die.
6. Don't touch the jellyfish or you will die.
7. Don't play near the windows during a lightning storm or you will die. 
8. If you get a loose tooth and you swallow it in your sleep, you will die.  My sister Shelly, the perfect one, stayed up all night in fear over this one. (This rule was courtesy of the neighbor girl, Debbie.  She walked with her hands horizontal so as not to drop her bangle bracelets.  Also, I don't believe the swallowing the tooth problem ever existed in Indiana, so I am assuming this was one of those Florida rules.)
9. Don't ride in the back of the truck because you might fall through the hole in the floor and you will die.
10. Don't forget to wear your seat belt in the front of the truck because you might fall through the hole in the floor and you will die.
11. Don't throw your clothes into the ceiling fan to watch them fly away.  (I don't actually think this is a rule of Florida.  I may have done something to help them create this rule).
12. Don't poke a pygmy rattlesnake with a rake or you could die.  (My dad learned this rule from a local neighborhood patrol officer).
13. If the landlord stops by, we don't have a dog. 
14. Don't pee in the pool or the water will turn purple.
15. If the neighbor boy asks you to play doctor, the answer is always "no". 

My parents did not have a lot of money to work with, but we always had food on the table.  Every day after school, my sister would make grilled cheese sandwiches for the two of us.  OK, it wasn't really grilled cheese, it was butter-flavor Crisco sandwiches with food-grade plastic, and they were delightful. I haven't had one in years but if the memory of my 6-year-old self serves me right, my sister could be a chef at the White House with a recipe like this.

My parents never liked working for the man.  I don't know who this man was, but he was always trying to tell us what to do in exchange for regular paychecks, and they were not having it.  No sir, nobody told us what to do.  Dad and Mom both had entrepreneurial spirits that would not be crushed.  During these years, I learned about the flea market.

We had our own flea market booth.  It was exquisite.  The smell of stale popcorn, body odor, and motorcycle exhaust hung heavily in the air.   You could buy fresh grapefruit or a hubcap.  If you looked hard enough, you could find exactly what you were looking for.  It was just like Walmart.

I learned how to haggle early.  After I saw it happen the first time, I realized that I would never ever pay full price for a gigantic brass eagle that you hang on your living room wall again.  Why pay full price when you could offer an insultingly low amount.  Get this, you can insult people, and they will still sell you their stuff at a reduced price.  This is America people.

Sometimes, if we were good and didn't talk to the strange people that tried to befriend us and give us candy, Mom would let Shelly and I go a few booths down and get a soda from the vendor. It was an adventure.  We would peruse the other booths as we walked back from the soda booth and pretend to be interested in coins, knives, custom belt buckles, cattle horns for the front of our car, and whatever other specialty items that we would find. Then, when we felt that we had sufficiently lived on the edge, we would scurry back to our booth before Mom busted us and threatened to make us sit in the car all by ourselves. (This was her "go to" threat.  She never did, but somewhere, deep in the back of our minds, we knew that if she really lost it,  she would.)

During these years, the Cabbage Patch Kid became all of the rage.  My mother was incredibly resourceful, so she borrowed a friend's Cabbage Patch, knocked off the design and created her own faux-Cabbage Patch dolls to sell.  She would spend days assembling the dolls and lining them up like little naked zombies all around the house.  I was intrigued that she took the time to sew a little butt crack and belly button, but more so that I survived childhood and they did not eat me in my sleep.

The nightmare began during the first face painting of the first group of dolls a few months before Christmas.  I woke up and stumbled out of bed, down the hall to get my morning Franken Berry fix, when what should I see but a bunch of little naked, bald baby dolls lined up in rows with only whites for eyes.  It was horrific.  (Not as horrific as the time I saved all of my allowance for Baby Skates because the commercial showed her skating down the street hand in hand with a little girl but in reality she just took two steps and fell over.  Not horrific like that, but horrific like zombie babies.) 
I stood in terror as my sister stumbled in behind me.  She was quietly singing a dirty song by Madonna that she wasn't allowed to sing.  Then she stopped too.

Had our mother gone mad?  Was dad going to allow this?  We both ran into their bedroom to see if the dolls had already murdered them.  It was obvious that we had been protected through the night because we had a very sturdy layer of blankets to save us from anything that may try to come after us while we slept. Blankets are like a steel force field. Shelly taught me this. 

Alas, they were just fine.  Mom explained that it was all part of the process of creating the doll faces.  They reminded me of the fish in Steve's freezer.  The zombie babies would then be taken to the flea market and sold at reduced Cabbage Patch Kid prices to grandmothers everywhere who were convinced that the grandkids wouldn't know the difference.

Our move to Florida also offered other interesting challenges.  Shelly and I entered the public school system. It was similar to "Lord of the Flies," only with jelly shoes and a little girl named Crayola who threatened to beat your ass everyday if you didn't play tether ball with her on the playground.  I went from the normal quiet little girl with the Dorothy Hamill haircut, to a wild animal on the tether ball court scrapping for Jolly Ranchers and Laffy Taffy.  It was madness. 

The school bus would pick us up out at the highway near our street every morning.  Mrs. Hall, the bus driver, had rotten teeth and wild hair and would yell in a very deep southern accent "If you kids don't shut up, I'm a gonna scream!"  The kids would then scream really loud back at her.  Shelly and I would sit together and hold on in hopes that Mrs. Hall would maintain control of the bus and not plunge us into a local alligator bog or force us all out for a play date at Vinnie and Lenny's house.  (They were East Coast boys who ate their own scabs).  Once Shelly even "took care of" a fourth-grade boy that kicked me on the bus because things were so out of control.  I could have handled it myself, but I was grateful to have her. 

We were lucky since our old curriculum was a little bit ahead of the one at the new school and the schoolwork came easily allowing us time to build our playground empire.  My seventh birthday had come and gone, and I was a bit older and wiser.  By the end of first grade, I had beaten Crayola on the tether ball court and learned what a honky was.  I was cruising the gifted program and had a pocket full of Jolly Ranchers.  I owned that playground, and nobody was going to take it away from me.

As we got more comfortable, my father was able to pick up a vehicle that didn't have holes in the floor. This allowed us to do more things and enjoy our days a bit more. The car was an old MG convertible, and my mother loved it.  I assume her love of this vehicle came from its carefree single-girl feel since it was a two seater.  In case you ever saw us going down the road, I was the kid shoved into the space between the seats and the trunk.  Yes, car seat laws have changed a bit since those days.

Dad would work most days, and mom would try to keep our lives interesting.  She would take us to the beach, go for drives, and once, she took us to the Weeki Wachee mermaid show.  If you have never heard of the Weeki Wachee mermaid show, let me explain it to you as I recall.

First, you walk up to the neatest mermaid and merman statue you have ever seen.  Instead of a face, they have face holes cut out for patrons to become the mer people. It is a photo opportunity like few others.  Your sister will meet you behind the statue and insist that you be the merman while she is the beautiful mermaid.  Don't try to resist because she will punch you in the arm.  Congratulations, this moment has been preserved for future generations. 

Next, you will go to an underwater glass room.  Here, the beautiful 20-something-year-old mermaids in tiny bikini tops will swim around and breathe air from hoses.  The moms enjoy the kids' reactions, the kids interact and play with the mermaids, and even that dads seem to enjoy just sitting back and watching.  It's pure unadulterated family fun.

This is the exact moment that I realized that I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  It would be a win win situation.  I could swim with my friends all day and wear a fish tail for a living.  It was the perfect job.  The only reason that I don't do this now is because sometime in the months following our visit to the mermaids, our adventure in Florida came to an end and we returned to Indiana where mermaids can't live.  I still think about it sometimes when the kids are screaming and I am hiding in the closet but I guess some dreams are just never meant to be.

Whether it was hiding from the zombie dolls, or walking arm in arm with Crayola on the playground, our brief time in Florida was a strange realization of independent thinking and responsibility that would shape my viewpoint for the future.  My parents never hid that they were struggling.  I think they knew that Shelly and I were struggling too, but we learned how to be tough.  We are all scrappers at heart.  It was a lesson in beautiful resilience that I will always take with me.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Coffee commercials are liars

When I married my husband, I knew that I was going to have to overlook one fatal flaw.  I'm not talking about something simple like a mole that grows a hair or an underground fight club.  It goes far beyond that.  My husband loves to go camping.

I was raised in a home where camping was sort of taboo.  I had always considered myself a good judge of what things should, or should not be, and if the man of my dreams were to come along and want to take me out into the wilderness, I was sure that it would only be because it's so breathtaking and refreshing.  I was quite certain that camping was filled with some sort of clean, natural beauty that my parents just "didn't get".  I have seen coffee commercials; I know how this works.  Also, I am realistic.  I know we could be dealing with wild animals.  To that, I would like to say, we have a dog; I can deal with animals.  In my mind's eye, I had the whole thing planned out.  This is how it would happen.

While my beau would go hunting for dinner, I would carefully weave a blanket out of leaves for a picnic.  The cool breeze would brush my hair back, just slightly, making my natural glow as beautiful as if I were in a hair color commercial. This would also somehow make me appear thinner.  I would sit quietly in my favorite jeans and a warm wool sweater that I had knit during the weeks before our camping trip in anticipation of this magical moment.   We would drink pine needle tea and sleep on a bed of freshly cut lavender.  After a long night of snuggling next to the fire and whispering sweetly to one another, we would wake to a sunrise meditation and greet the earth with the birds.  It's so romantic, isn't it? 

Well, just to save any of you other poor, misguided city folk the trauma of the reality of the moment, let me tell you how it really happens, or at least my experience.

It begins when your in-laws send you a note letting you know they are going camping tonight and, if you would like to join them, you are welcome.

Quickly, you throw lots of non-perishable food into a box and a few things that you had in your refrigerator into a cooler.  Then, you pack up everything you think you may need for your first time camping.  It's important not to listen to your husband on this.  Let me reiterate, don't listen to your husband.  He is an annoying know it all.  Remember, you have seen the coffee commercial where they camp. Keep your head about you; no need to overpack.  You don't want to be that lady.  Besides, the woods will provide.

You arrive at your chosen campsite in 90-degree heat.  You are surprisingly not surrounded by the quiet shelter of a tree canopy, but instead, several recreational vehicles full of frat boys and families with kids with fruit punch mustaches.  On the way to the public bathroom with one of your four kids for the third time in the past hour, you will meet a guy named Larry and he will be a little bit too friendly.  He has clearly been wearing the same swim trunks for at least the past three days.  The good news is that the doors aren't missing on all the restroom stalls and public showers, just most of them. 

You will find the tent construction to be easy enough, which will go down as a score in your book.  You have come well equipped with your all-natural bug spray (which doesn't really work) and a cup of water to share between you, your husband, your kids, and your dog.  Also, you have assumed that cooking over a campfire can't be that different from a stove, so you have packed food accordingly.  Boy, will it be a pleasant surprise to find out that tator tot casserole over the fire actually works.

Remember, your in-laws are just three campsites down.  Try not to ask them for help if you feel lost or confused by all of the dirt, sweat, and dirt.  Did I say dirt already? This will ensure that your father-in-law sees you clearly for the non-camping mess that you are and takes quiet pity on you, and your mother-in-law takes the time to share, in front of your children, that she is making eggs, bacon, and coffee for breakfast in the morning for the two of them.  This is important down the road because you plan to force them to eat a bowl of dry Fiber Floppo's since you really didn't know how to pack.   

Good, now you have made it through the first hour ... only 47 more to go. 

Fast-forward 15 or so bathroom trips with a potty-training toddler and sweaty kids who don't feel so well, a quick three-hour trip to the nearest grocery and fast food restaurant, and an uncomfortable tick removal process from the pup, and you have gotten to the portion of the evening where you get to drink wine.  That's right, you remembered to pack the wine.  See, you have got this thing!

Whew.  That feels good.  Camping isn't so bad after all.  Man, I love you man.  This really is just like the coffee commercial.

Thankfully, you purchased water while on your grocery outing. You are going to need it. 

Finally, the mosquitoes have announced that bedtime is near.  I have learned that they attack you and chase you into your tent when it's time for bed.  It's a highly spiritual experience, let me assure you.

There you will sit in the tent with four kids and a dog. Two of the children who are very young will cry for at least an hour.  You will learn that sleeping bags are not meant to be used in uncomfortable heat.  You will want to pack cotton sheets for next time.  (Yeah right, next time.)  You will likely strip down to your skivvies and sleep with the windows unzipped while gasping for an ounce of cool air throughout the night. You will not suffer from modesty issues; it's really hot.  Then again, it may be the wine.  The frat boys at the campsite next to you keep streaking anyway.  Also, it isn't likely that any romantic cuddling will take place due to your resentment toward your husband for not telling you what you really needed to pack, not to mention the sweltering air.

After a therapeutic night of building character, you will wake feeling kind of damp, and your leg will be stuck to your sleeping bag with dew and sweat.  The sun will be glaringly strong as you attempt to recover from the post-traumatic stress of the filthy public restroom first thing in the morning.  This is where your meditation journey begins.

Imagine yourself at a high-end hotel.  You order room service and a massage.  Just when you have hit the peak of relaxation and feel completely rested, you hear a knock at the door.  It's the concierge.  He hands you a box containing a vintage Dior gown and a pair of  Louis Vuitton shoes that fit perfectly. You also find a gorgeous clutch and a diamond necklace.  You put them on, and you look amazing

At this point, you will realize that you have forgotten to put sunscreen on yourself.  It does not concern you because you have already slathered the kids with unhealthy doses of it, and they are safe.  You also notice that you stink but continue to refuse to use the public shower.

You find a note in the bottom of the box that contained your Dior gown.  It reads, "Go to the lobby at 7:00pm, and you will find a car waiting for you."  You glance at the clock and  notice it is almost time.  You slowly run down the hall.  There is a slight breeze, and your dress flows behind you as water flows down a beautiful natural stream.

You will notice your child peeing in the trees.  You have officially stopped caring.

As you reach the lobby, you are greeted by your love in a tuxedo and he walks you out to a limousine.  He explains that you are going to the fanciest party in the city and it is all for you.  They are celebrating how amazing and talented you are.  You aren't camping at all.  You aren't camping at all.  You are not camping.

You may realize that you actually are camping.  Right around now you will probably start to question if you are having a heat stroke, so you agree to go down to the "swimming hole" with the family so that everyone can cool down. 

If you have never swam in a lake, then you are in for a treat.  First, sit on the floor of the lake in the shallow end so that you can learn what it is like to have mud in your most delicate areas.  You may also get to see what a fish feels like when it rubs up on your legs!  If these are not reason enough to just go for it, your good friend Larry with the dirty swim trunks will be there, too.  It's like a huge community bath, only with no chlorine and lots of bacteria.  On the bright side, you have managed to avoid heat stroke and you have exchanged your own bad smell for the smell of the lake. 

Then, after you leave the lake and the children are so tired either from playing or from some sort of pond water infection, (who knows, but it's OK.  Remember, you are in your Dior gown and you have stopped caring) you can head back to camp. 

"Wait a minute, are the skies darkening?" you may ask yourself.
"Why yes, they are," you will answer.

This is when you may begin to feel uneasy due to your lack of cell service and the realization that it's either time to pack up and drive home or ride out the storm. If you want this trip to be an adventure, you know what you must do.  You must huddle in your tent with your family for the entire evening as well as most of the night while the National Weather Service issues a watch for possible tornadic activity.  You will stink. You will have a blistering sunburn. You will be angry with your husband for getting you into this mess.

Then, when the sun rises in the morning, it will not be glaring the way it did the previous morning.  The air will be fresh.  You may even smell a hint of lavender.  You won't even mind that your in-laws are eating eggs and bacon.  Do you know why?  It's over.  You get to leave.  That's right, it's over.  You camped.

I cannot attest to what will happen to you from this point forward since everyone is different.  Some people go about life as if nothing happened.  Others get caught up in reliving the adventure.  Mostly, I just felt peace.  Now I understand camping.  It isn't at all what I imagined.  Nobody handed me a cup of coffee and pointed out the yellow-bellied sapsucker, but the skies were as blue as I had ever remembered them. 

It is the bad that makes you appreciate the good.  Perhaps in a time of soul searching, I will go camping again.  I may even consider it if someone tells me it's the only way to save the planet from a fiery asteroid that is going to crash through our atmosphere.  Mostly, I just want to rage against the makers of the double-crossing coffee commercial and yet, I kind of want to send them a thank you note.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

About Me

This is me....remember my name.
Being the daughter of a sarcastic used car salesman and an interior designer has its perks.  I could sew a window treatment for the finest castle or I could make myself at home with some vending machine Skittles while in a junk yard searching for a used catalytic converter.  My childhood was nothing short of a breeding ground for a deal making, design savvy real estate broker.  That being said, it is important that you learn about me just in case I ever become famous.

I will share the story of my birth just as it was passed down to me. 

The magic began during the blizzard of 1976.  My mother was nearing her 12th month of pregnancy, and my older sister, Shelly, the perfect child, was closing in on her third birthday.  My uncle, secretly in the closet, had come for a visit.  He wore his red suspenders.  (I do not know why this is important to the story, I am just repeating it as I have been told.)  He was teaching Shelly all about the joy of musical theater.  Dad was in the driveway shoveling out a space for his motorcycle, should he need to peeve off the neighbors in a hurry.  Everything was calm. 

Then, out of nowhere, I, the largest fetus in the history of the planet, began to hurdle my 30 pound shoulder into my mother's abdominal wall.  Then, I proceeded to relentlessly attack her all day.  At one point my uncle had to stop his rendition of “Why Can't a Woman be More Like a Man", from the musical My Fair Lady, in order to give her a ride to the hospital.  I do not know where my father was at this time, I can only assume church. 

 Luckily, the doctors knew better than to trust a mere woman who had given birth before. These feelings were simply false labor. She was clearly faking, so they sent her home immediately to take a warm bath, have a glass of wine, and relax. 

I was persistent though.  I continued my onslaught of shoulder attacks.   Today was my birthday, I just knew it.  It was the first day of winter and dammit, I would be a winter solstice child.  So, after a long afternoon of my fetal antics, my mother gathered a bit of gumption and asked my father to take her back to the hospital.  (Church had apparently been dismissed.)  She was promptly admitted to the labor and delivery ward.

The details of what transpired may be graphic, so thankfully I have blocked them out with elevator music in my brain.  You may insert classical guitar playing "Ice Ice Baby" here. 

After what I have heard to be the worst normal delivery of all time, I mean, in the history of the entire universe, and several other alternate planes of existence, I, a beautiful nine and a half pound baby Sumo wrestler was born.  I had crystal clear violet blue eyes, a sweet little voice, and dark, brown, curly hair, that delicately weaved itself into a long line all of the way down my spine.  That's right, I had hair on my back that would make any small ape rage with jealousy.  My perfect blond sister Shelly rejoiced.

Little miss perfect doing the "Fonzi"
My birth came just 3 days and 30 minutes before a much more important event: Santa's arrival from his yearly trek around the globe. Really, the man eats massive amounts of cookies, drinks warm milk that has been sitting out since bed time, and leaves reindeer poop on the roofs of small children's houses.  Then, he is welcomed back year after year, knowing full well that he will likely have gastointestinal distress and require the use of the bathroom.  This, all because he has gifts.  The doctors were kind enough to send us home so as not to miss the big event. 

Ok, ok, Mom, if you are reading this, I will clarify that we were raised devout Lutherans and it was the celebration of our Lord and Savior's birth, not the whole "Santa" thing.  It's fine.  I'm fine.  Sorry.  Well, sort of. 

That Christmas was my first.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I started my day around 2 am and made it my goal to get upset about absolutely nothing -- a lot.  I like to imagine that my mother still managed to get up and fix everyone breakfast, make all of the beds, clean all of the bathrooms, mop, dust, vacuum, and catch up on all of the laundry, just 4 days after giving birth. She is kind of amazing. After reflecting, I'm not sure she would have gotten all of the laundry done; I tried to mess everything up pretty well that day. 

Isn't she the most beautiful mother in the world?  
You may be asking yourself why you need to know this about me.  Well, I would like to answer that question with a question.  Do you like pie?  Good, we can move on.

My childhood was littered with milkshakes, doughnuts, and lots of home-cooked wonderfulness.  My mother was a model citizen, and my father taught me how to play basketball, ride a motorcycle, and shove a man's nose bone up into his brain should he get too fresh, theoretically, of course. 

Do you remember that moment in
your childhood when you
realized who you were
meant to be?
My sister, perfect Shelly, once smacked me when I was a baby resting in my crib.  I have forgiven her, but sometimes when her roots grow out and she gets what is commonly referred to as "state fair hair", I like to think it's karma coming back to haunt her. 

Shelly and I were given the advantage of guilt early in life through parochial school training.  This continued until we each graduated from high school.  During these years, I was reasonably well behaved and attempted to gain favor with my parents.  Luckily, Shelly went through a dark phase involving hair bands, posters, and black eyeliner.  This was helpful in achieving my lilly white image.  Mostly I played basketball and secretly indulged my love of long distance running.  I kept it under wraps so as not to be recruited by the cross country coach since I thought he was a jack donkey.  To impress the boys, I curled my bangs, wore makeup, and talked about my dreams of going to medical school.  On a side note, boys don't care about medical school.

I graduated from high school with a highly mediocre grade point average.  Then, I applied to a local university where I was accepted. There, I majored in sarcasm and fun, but somehow managed to escape with a psychology degree and a best friend who would be my husband.  This is me.   

Thank you to my Husband, Mom, Dad, and Shelly, for tolerating my quirky viewpoints and for helping to create them.  If the book goes well, please remember me saying "I won't let you down".  If the book goes badly, please remember me saying "It's your fault", while I throw something across the room.  All of my love.